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A “Yes” alliance for the 1995 Quebec referendum

The Story

In June 1995, the sovereignty movement takes an unexpected twist when a political alliance is struck between the Parti Québécois, the Bloc Québécois and the Action Démocratique du Québec. With public support for sovereignty fading, Premier Jacques Parizeau engineers the three-way union, which includes a retooled referendum option aimed at more moderate Quebecers. This CBC Radio clip evaluates the strategy behind a landmark coalition that would go on to become the cornerstone of the Yes campaign. 

Medium: Radio
Program: The World At Six
Broadcast Date: June 12, 1995
Guest(s): Jean Charest, Jean Chrétien, Stephen Harper, Lucienne Robillard
Host: Alannah Campbell, Bob Oxley
Reporter: Alvin Cader, Bernard St. Laurent Duration: 5:42

Did You know?

• Jacques Parizeau, Bloc Québécois leader Lucien Bouchard and Mario Dumont, leader of the Action Démocratique, announced their alliance in a ceremony in Quebec City on June 12, 1995.
• The agreement among the popular francophone leaders was forged the previous week by Parizeau, whose message of unilateral sovereignty was proving unpopular with Quebecers.

• The Tripartite Agreement on Sovereignty stated that the three parties "agreed to join forces and to co-ordinate our efforts so that in the fall 1995 referendum, Quebecers can vote for a real change: to achieve sovereignty for Quebec and a formal proposal for a new economic and political partnership with Canada."
• In the lead-up to the June announcement, Parizeau's government was struggling with public apathy regarding sovereignty and a series of political gaffes.

• In the week before Monday's declaration, one of Parizeau's backbenchers resigned after being disciplined for voting against the budget, while another called the education minister a liar.
• On June 10, Parizeau was publicly embarrassed during an appearance on the Quebec cable channel Musique Plus, where he was interrupted by raucous political video clips and a Mexican mariachi band.
• Parizeau's partnership was considered a political masterstroke by many, who saw it as a winning bid to revive his party's flagging popularity.

• The Toronto Star called it "another boost [for sovereignty]" while the Financial Post dubbed it "a publicity triumph."
• By joining with Bouchard, the extremely popular Leader of the Official Opposition in Parliament, and Dumont, the 25-year-old leader of the moderate ADQ, Parizeau managed to expand the popularity of sovereignty, which had been hovering at 40 per cent for months.
• The deal also saw Parizeau steer away from his long-stated goal of unilateral separatism in favour of a more moderate plan.

• Unlike his original vision, the retooled referendum would see Quebec launch formal negotiations for "a new economic and political association" with Canada in the event of a Yes majority. If the negotiations failed after a year, the government would then have the power to declare Quebec's sovereign status.
• This softened Parizeau's long-established goal to have the referendum pose a clear question on sovereignty alone.
• This change was seen as a concession to both Bouchard (who questioned public support for separation) and Dumont, who supported a renegotiated association with the federal government.

• The new union was called a "mirage" by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who accused the trio of not having "the guts to say that they are separatists."
• Federal Progressive Conservative leader Jean Charest slammed the sovereigntist side, comparing their proposal to an open marriage: "I don't know of a lot of divorces where people walk out of the courthouse and step back into the family home."

• The Bloc Québécois was formed in 1990 by a coalition of like-minded Quebec MPs who defected from their original parties after the failure of the Meech Lake accord. Lucien Bouchard, who quit his job as the federal minister of the environment, headed up the new party, which was committed to promoting and achieving Quebec sovereignty.
• Led by Bouchard, the BQ won 54 seats in the 1993 federal election – two more than the Reform Party – earning it Official Opposition status.

• The Action Démocratique du Québec, or ADQ, was formed in January 1994 as a fiscally conservative option to the Parti Québécois and the Quebec Liberal Party. The ADQ was originally headed by former Quebec Liberal MNA Jean Allaire, who resigned for health reasons and was replaced by Mario Dumont – the ex-president of the provincial Liberal Youth association.
• While Dumont originally supported a "soft nationalist" approach to sovereignty, he has promised a moratorium on separation since the No side win in 1995.


Separation Anxiety: The 1995 Quebec Referendum more